The word ‘Skilah’ may be randomly thrown around in the Jamaican dancehall scene but it holds a deeper meaning for Nigerian singer, Onyido Nkemjika who is referred to as Ketchup in entertainment circles. Theming his latest album Skilamatic, Ketchup describes the title as a spiritual and energetic one. The S, he says, represents a Sexual guy, the I for “Intelligent”, the M for “Mastery”, “A” for “Advanced thinking”, and the letter “H” for “Harmony”. Although he could not remember what every letter of the word stood for at the time, he did not fail to stress that what he chose to call his album stemmed from a deep mystical feeling of how he views the world.
As expected, the album packs the raunchy flavor that naturally comes with reggae and dancehall but it also comes with tastefully crafted lyrics, impressive arrangement dynamics and the right dose of Afrofusion. It might also have a nostalgic slap, considering that his 2015 chart ripper Pampam made it to the cut. According to him, songs from as far back as 2010 were included in the project in a deliberate move to summarize the essence of his artistry over the years, and to give a taste of his updated sound.
I need people to understand that Afro dancehall is a sound that’s evergreen.
It was also in the beginning of this winding decade that the public first got acquainted with Ketchup and his music. Show me yuh Rozay was the ultimate bottle popping song and Ketchup’s ever electric energy did not fail to deliver it as an instant club classic. The single attracted a remix with Olamide and Phyno, further etching Ketchup’s brand into the system. In the same momentum, he followed up with the Banky W featured Coco Banana, however, around the same time, he hit a slight roadblock that brought his art to a pause.
He thinks of this time in his life as the perfect transitory period that helped him evolve from being signed to a record label to becoming completely independent. It has been 3 years since this transition and Ketchup has spent most of it doing some deep-rooted groundwork. The afro-dancehall genre has proven its acceptance and commercial viability but the surface is still barely scratched, especially on the local front. Acts like Timaya, Patoranking, Cynthia Morgan e.t.c. all seem to have more appeal in the Caribbeans, the Americas and some regions of Africa and the same goes for Ketchup and his music.
I can’t wait for 2025 to see the kind of music Africans would be making.
He has since made a conscious effort to visit some of the areas where his music gains the most traction including East Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, New York and more. By doing this, Ketchup has managed to build a formidable network while creating a rich catalogue of collaborations with both local and international counterparts. One major finding during this sojourn is the fact that his music long preceded him. Recalling one of his encounters, he shared the story of a DJ in the U.S. attributing “Pam Pam” to Wizkid while he was seated right there in the room. He claimed not to have tried to correct the notion, saying he was just happy to see that Nigerian entertainment was beginning to get the recognition it deserved.
As a little boy, Nkemjika dreamed of being a priest. Not only is he now preaching the good gospel of Afro Dancehall, he also plans to strengthen his other means of expression. He mentioned that a magazine is in the works and that there are plans to tap into the animation aspect of the film sector as a voice actor.
Entering a new phase in his musical career, Ketchup is assured that his fans will never lack excellent content. Recently partnering with Nigerian distribution and content creation giants – Freeme Digital, the dancehall star has planned a rollout of a video for every track off his Skilahmatic album. In a chat with Victoria Mpamah and Black Petal for Vibe.ng, Ketchup broke down his artistic process and his plans for the new decade. He touched on his past and present experiences, his personal life as well as his thoughts on Nigeria’s current music scape.
Vibe: Hi Ketchup, nice to meet you. Tell us about yourself, what do Nigerians not know about you?
Ketchup: My name is Onyido Nkemjika. I’m from mixed parents, my mum is Yoruba and my dad, Igbo. It is quite known that I love to dance. I used to be a dancer before I started music. I love to act during my spare time. I like to do voice acting specifically cartoons. That’s a career still in progress though.
Vibe: Why did you choose the name Ketchup?
Ketchup: I used to be a hype man at a club before I started music and I didn’t have a nickname. Someone suggested I answer “Ketchup on the chips”. I liked it and it stuck. I started making music and everyone was already familiar with the name.
Vibe: There was some silence from you after the release of your hit single, “Show me your rozay” What happened? Label issues?
Ketchup: I had to go for surgery and people didn’t really notice. I really wouldn’t say a silence, it was a transition. I had to transition from being under a record label to being an independent artiste and that has been on for the past three years now. I had to travel to East Africa- they’re really into dancehall so I had to go there- to make allies. I went to Trinidad, Tobago, New York and Caribbean countries and met with some DJs in order to have a good network and promote my music on my own. I did collaborations with different artistes and I was on the first track on the Major Lazer album. I had songs with artistes from East Africa and Cameroon. And the sound in Nigeria back then was not favourable to my music.
Vibe: Your album dropped in October 2019. What inspired the name “Skilahmatic?”
Ketchup: Skilahmatic is a very spiritual and energetic name. Every letter in the word has a meaning. “S” for the Sexual guy, “I” for the Intelligent guy, “M” for a Master in whatever you do, “A” for Advanced Thinking, “H” for Harmony. It has a deep mystical feeling of how I view the world. I try to tell stories from my point of view and the way to understand is to listen from the beginning of the album to the end. Skilahmatic as an album is a body of work I’ve been working on for a while. I have songs on it recorded since 2010, 2012. It is a different sound from what everybody is putting out and it’s going to live forever.
Vibe: What’s your favourite track on the album?
Ketchup: Every track on the album is my favourite depending on my mood. They’re all special to me. But I’d say “What would you do” because it relates to my dancing side.
“I’m in a relation not just on the ship yet.”
Vibe: Did you encounter challenges during the making of the album?
Ketchup: The challenges were with power sometimes but that’s minor. I also faced difficulties with gathering the producers, songwriters together and attending to their needs. But, the challenges were not life-threatening or too dramatic. I’ve disciplined myself as an independent artiste. It’s all about dedication and commitment and I was determined to drop the album this year regardless of the little challenges.
Vibe: There are 17 tracks on your album and just two artistes were featured. Any reason?
Ketchup: I need people to understand that Afro-dancehall is a sound that’s evergreen. For instance, People still listen to “Coco Banana” with Banky W, “Show me your rozay” and “Mama” till today. I have songs with a lot of artistes but packing a lot of artistes on the album wouldn’t make people feel the impact. I want my fans to relate to my music and connect with my stories as an Afro dancehall artiste.
Vibe: How was your experience working with the producers on the album?
Ketchup: It was magical because most of them are my friends. They were patient and listened to my opinions as well as sharing theirs. The producers were great and I thank God for that.
Vibe: Does your personal life have an influence on any song on your album?
Ketchup: Plenty. From the beginning to the end, my personal life is sprinkled all over my music.
Vibe: What do we expect from you after this album?
Ketchup: We’re still on the album. Every song on the album has a video. We’ll stretch out the album and make it last before coming with another album.
Vibe: You’ve been talking about Afro-dancehall, what does it mean to you personally?
Ketchup: Afro-dancehall is the fusion of Afrobeat and dancehall. I grew up listening to Ebenezer Obey, Shina Peters and Osadebe. My dad loved a lot of Caribbean music, my mum was more of Nigerian music. And I listened to a lot of radio and since we weren’t allowed to go out, I knew the lyrics of the songs word for word. That’s where I picked up the Caribbean and foreign vibe. Getting dropped off at school, my dad played a lot of Caribbean music and that greatly influenced my sound when I started doing music. In Afro-dancehall, it’s Pidgin English but you bounce to it like a Patois person.
Vibe: Would you say that people that infuse Patois into Afro dance hall, are corrupting the sound?
Ketchup: No, it really depends on the individuals. For me, it is Pidgin English mixed with English. I want everybody to be able to relate to what’s being said. That’s why I use a grassroot language which is Pidgin English instead of Patois.
Vibe: What Nigerian artiste would you love to work with?
Ketchup: It’s a long list of artistes and I’ve worked with a lot of them. There are a few people I’ve not worked with yet like Wizkid and I need to finish my jam with Awilo. I don’t have a selection of people I wouldn’t work with. I can work with everybody. I’d also like to work with Tems. I love her sound.
Vibe: 2020 plans?
Ketchup: Everybody will get a feel of my music and sound. I want to sell the album to as many countries as I can, go on tours, spread my music, do shows and let people understand what Afro-Dancehall is all about.
Vibe: Let’s drift away from music now, what else do you have going on you besides the music of course?
Ketchup: I like to draw and do voice acting. I love to act as well. I have a magazine company in the background. More of my life is surrounded with music for now. I don’t want to get distracted by my other talents.
If the Nigerian music industry is more organized and strategic, we’ll be able to make as much money as we see on Instagram.
Vibe: You recently joined the FreeMe Digital distribution family, how’s that going for you?
Ketchup: It’s going great, it’s like I’m working with my brothers. The process is easy and fast for me. It’s a magical feeling and I’m so grateful to God.
Vibe: What are your top five favourite artistes both local and international?
Ketchup: I like Lila Ike from Jamaica. I think she has great vocals. I like Nonso Amadi. I like Lazbizi, he’s a great songwriter and artiste, he was part of my album and I think he’s dope. I like Popcaan and Rihanna. Everybody loves Rihanna.
Vibe: If you were to change something about your life, a personal experience maybe, what would that be?
Ketchup: Nothing. I wish I had the knowledge I have now back when I was younger. I love the way I’ve lived my life. No regrets. I once wished I was a priest.
Vibe: Are you dating anyone? Plans on settling down soon?
Ketchup: I’m working on being married soon. I don’t want to be alone after promoting the Afro dancehall sound. I want to have a happy family by the beach with two dogs, a monkey and a parrot. I’m in a relation not just on the ship yet.
Vibe: How would you personally describe the dynamics of the music industry?
Ketchup: I think the Nigerian music industry still has a lot of work to do. If the Nigerian music industry is more organized and strategic, we’ll be able to make as much money as we see on Instagram. Nigerian music is a big project so the government should structure the industry in a way that it would benefit everybody. It will be nice if they can stop piracy and make people buy music instead of free downloads. I hope that’s soon so everybody that has worked hard to bring Africa to the limelight gets to enjoy the benefits. Everybody before now, did a great job. The likes of Majek Fashek, Osadebe, Onyeka Onwenu, Sunny Ade, Blackie. Now, Nigerian music has come to the limelight to the international audience and regardless of the negativity in the country, Nigerian music has brought a lot of jobs and hope to Nigerians. We’ve done a great job and I can’t wait for 2025 to see the kind of music Africans would be making.
Cover Star: Ketchup
Cover Story: Cyclone Artemis
Photography: Curated by Eno
Style Direction: Crux Fashion
MUA: Jasmyn Artistry
Cover Design: Slimkiss